The Arc’teryx Norvan is a heavy duty shoe with excellent traction and protection, but the overall lack of runability makes it best suited for fast packing and running-hiking crossover use.
The Arc’teryx Norvan is a shoe that effectively bridges the gap between a trail runner and hiker. The upper features an inner bootie that provides a comfortable sock-like fit and seals out trail debris. The outer part of the upper is primarily mesh with excellent breathability, yet still has enough protection in key areas to be impervious to typical trail hazards. Underneath, the full-length Vibram outsole grips well on just about any surface and further protects the foot.
Unfortunately when it comes to actual running, the Norvan falls short in a number of ways. The overall design of the shoe is both stiff and imprecise, and these characteristics combine to make running highly cumbersome at anything other than a slow jog. Additionally, although the integrated bootie itself fits quite snugly, the unusual lacing system makes the rest of the upper hard to secure. The resultant movement between the two upper layers further compounds the agility and handling of the Norvan.
The Norvan will appeal to runners who need a rugged and durable platform for slower travel over technical terrain, but don’t necessarily want to step up to a full hiking shoe. The Norvan may also be appropriate for fast-packing depending on the pace and load.
Comfort The Norvan is certainly a comfortable shoe in that it feels good on the foot and provides plenty of support. However as a running shoe, the Norvan is hampered by the overall stiffness of the design. The positives are the sock-like fit of the integrated bootie and the breathability.
Speed The Norvan really struggles at paces exceeding anything other than a very slow jog. The shoe is simply too overbuilt, too stiff, and too imprecise. A minor positive is that the outsole lugs are sufficiently low-profile that they stay out of the way and don’t become too awkward on smoother surfaces.
Security of Fit The integrated bootie helps provide a snug feel. However the awkward lacing system combined make it difficult for the rest of the upper to get a secure fit around the bootie. The result is that although the fit might feel fairly secure, there ends up being a fair amount of play between the bootie and the main upper.
Agility Agility is another major weakness of the Norvan. Again this is simply not a shoe designed for nimble, precise handling. The silver lining is that given the overall protective nature of the shoe, it doesn’t have any issues shielding the foot from trail debris, and thus exact foot placement is perhaps somewhat less important.
Responsiveness Although the midsole material has a bit of an energetic feel to it, the overall platform is sufficiently stiff that responsiveness is for the most part lacking. Given the speeds at which the Norvan does best, this is arguably not an issue, but compared to other trail running shoes in this class the Norvan significantly underperforms.
Protection The strength of the Norvan is in its overall protection. The rugged full length outsole has no problem with trail hazards underfoot, and the upper material is nearly impervious to typical trail debris. The net result is a bomb-proof platform that can really only be bettered by a hiking-specific shoe.
A competitive road cyclist in his younger years and lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Jacob discovered his love for long distance trail running as an adult. He lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe. Follow him at Google+.